Baltimore County’s Department of Social Services has launched a program to try to recruit more foster parents. In addition to this, the county is also trying to recruit community advocates to help work with families at risk of having to relinquish their children to foster care. From the Baltimore Sun:
“Across the state and the country, there are initiatives to engage the community in protecting its children,” said Judith Schagrin, DSS assistant director for children’s services.
Our Community Our Responsibility, which the department got off the ground this week, aims to build a pool of volunteer advocates. They will work to get to know the parents and their challenges, then advocate for them at Family Team Decision Making — their meetings with therapists, social workers and lawyers, which will precede any effort to remove children from home. In Dundalk alone, there are about 20 such gatherings a month.
The meetings intend to help make joint, informed decisions that ensure the children’s safety and the families’ well-being, said Kelly DaCunha, Family Team Decision Making facilitator with the DSS.
“You would immediately offer a sense of community and a unique understanding of Dundalk,” she told a group of potential representatives, who met at a Dundalk church Wednesday.
DSS hopes that these community representatives would be natural resources and allies for the families facing foster care and that the community could assist the families in finding resources for their children.
Of the 520 children who entered foster care in 2010, nearly half of them were from the Baltimore County neighborhoods of Dundalk, Essex, Parkville, Middle River and Rosedale. Unfortunately, only 8 of the 215 approved foster homes were located in Dundalk – the neighborhood that contributed the most children to the total of 520 (77 of those foster children were from Dundalk).
Resident participants and officials are hoping that the new programs will not only help increase foster homes in this part of Baltimore County, enabling children to stay in their community, but also that the early intervention of neighborhood advocates will help families keep their children in their own homes.